Gender, land, and trade: Women's agency and colonial change in Portuguese Guinea (West Africa)

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The present paper discusses the issue of gender and land tenure in former Portuguese Guinea, currently Guinea Bissau, during a crucial period of colonial transition from the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. It provides novel insights into the local dynamics of women's agency with regard to their control over land based upon kinship and marriage and its use as a strategic resource in social, cultural and economic perspective. After summarizing the recent debate on women's position in (West) African and (post-) colonial societies with regard to their access, rights, and control over land, the changes that occurred in a (proto-) colonial context from the late 1800s to early 1900s are identified. The question of resource control is then illustrated with certain cases of women simultaneously acting as planters and entrepreneurs during and after the peanut boom and by means of quantitative data on land concessions and legal titles. The case of Portuguese Guinea illustrates the need for a reassessment of women's strategies to gain legal tenure, with or without male collaboration, despite legal reforms which excluded certain social groups from access to land titles during a period of sustained economic and political turmoil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-195
Number of pages34
JournalAfrican Economic History
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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